Brad Paisley released one of his most ambitious projects to date with the audio and visual album Love and War. The compilation is a who’s who in music as it boasts genre-bending collaborations with everyone from John Fogerty and the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger to Bill Anderson and Timbaland. Additionally, it includes a co-write with the late Johnny Cash as Paisley put to music a poem that Cash wrote for June Carter Cash long before the two were married. Unlike previous records, though, the process didn’t come as easy for the singer.
As Paisley explains to Sounds Like Nashville during a whirlwind media day at the Country Music Hall of Fame with several of his collaborators, many of his past records revolved around the first song he wrote for the project. On both 2009’s American Saturday Night and 2011’s This Is Country Music, the first song written for each album was the title track. However, with his 11th studio album Love and War, Paisley didn’t pen the title track until halfway through the album’s writing process.
“I had the title and I thought, ‘This can be really important especially if I’m saying this with John [Fogerty],'” Paisley tells Sounds Like Nashville about writing the song “Love and War” with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. “It also started to come into focus. It was like, ‘All right, if I’m calling it ‘Love and War’ there should be some tension here of living between those extremes which is really where life is, isn’t it?”
The visual album brings these tensions vividly to life. While the album’s lead single “Today” climbed to No. 1 on the country charts, becoming Paisley’s 24th chart topper, the video also leaves a lasting impression as it tugs on the viewer’s emotions. “It’s fun to pull on heartstrings like this. It always feels important, the more people you can affect in a personal way,” Paisley admits.
The four minute clip celebrates the moments in life that stand out most — a couple learning the gender of their baby, marriage proposals, a father walking his daughter down the aisle, graduation day and soldiers returning home from war — and it was the making of this video that sparked Paisley’s idea to expand Love and War into a visual album. While a visual album has been previously done by Beyoncé in the pop world, Paisley is the first country artist to try his hand at the unique art form.
“I made the video [for ‘Today’] and realized, ‘OK, this is going to mean a lot of different things to people.’ After I made the video I realized, ‘I think I can do that with a lot of these songs.’ And I went to the label and said, ‘I think I can make an entire visual album if you want.’ They sort of said ‘Yeah, right’ and here we are,” he explains with a laugh. “Somehow, a little bit later, we were able to create this visual record that feels like a clear focus of what I’m trying to say. ‘Today’ really spurred all of this and it’s continuing to mean different things especially now that I’m partnering with Band Against Cancer. You’ve got the song now that’s going to mean everything from proposals like you think, and the video of soldiers coming home, to cancer free diagnosis.”
The album as an art form is dying, we can see that every week, but it’s still my favorite way to make music.
Following the release of his album on April 21, Paisley announced his partnership with Sarah Cannon and Band Against Cancer. For a limited time, Paisley invites fans to take part in the Get One, Give One campaign where with every purchase of his new album fans can send an additional free copy to a patient struggling with cancer. His upcoming 2017 tour will also be sponsored by the organization, which aims to connect those touched by cancer with community-based treatment options and resources.
Dee Anna Smith, chief executive officer of Sarah Cannon, tells Sounds Like Nashville that Paisley is now the voice and ambassador for Band Against Cancer. She says upon meeting Paisley, she could instantly tell that he cared about his involvement as he had witnessed a loved one die from cancer himself.
“His grandfather, who taught him everything, died of pancreatic cancer, so he’s got his own story,” Smith says. “You see in everything he does how he connects with every age group, every genre. He’s just real. He’s the voice for saving lives.”
In addition to being the voice for Band Against Cancer, Paisley is proving to be an important voice for veterans. Paisley wrote the album’s title track with Fogerty and the song details the neglect many soldiers face in the United States once they return home from war. As Fogerty recalls, Paisley invited him to Nashville to write together. Fogerty had never co-written a song before and admits he was a bit sheepish.
“He tells me, ‘I’ve got this idea for a song. It’s called ‘Love and War’ and I want to write about the veterans. I can only write this song with you.’ Now I get it, but at the time it was like, ‘What?'” Fogerty says. “Then he explained to me that he wanted to talk about the veterans and the neglect, the treatment of veterans in America. That’s something I know a little about. That’s something I’ve certainly thought about for a long time in my life. I had a lot to say because I had a lot of thoughts.”
The two artists wrote the song over a three-day period at Paisley’s home in Tennessee and Fogerty remembers talking about the concept and writing down various phrases or insight he had about veterans. They later picked up guitars and the song soon flowed together. He calls the experience “really special.”
“Love and War” strikes a chord with the lyrics: “They say all is fair in love and war, but that ain’t true, it’s wrong / They ship you out to die for us, forget about you when you don’t.” It’s a song that Fogerty, who spent time in the military himself, hopes receives the approval from our nation’s veterans.
“I paid attention. I didn’t want to be sitting here abusing their suffering,” he notes. “If I was going to do this, I wanted to be honoring them and respecting the veterans with dignity.”
Fogerty spent as much time as Paisley and co-producer Luke Wooten in the studio perfecting the song. As Wooten recalls, Fogerty wanted to be there for the whole process.
“He was just as engaged as we were. For a guy who’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who’s done this for 50-plus years, to still be that into it was very inspiring,” Wooten marvels.
Wooten went to college with Paisley but it wasn’t until years later that they began working together in Nashville. He says Love and War had more man hours than the singer’s last three albums combined, partly because of Paisley’s bucket list collaborations.
“After a certain point you realize we’re on the cusp of making a really special album and it put a little added pressure that we’ve got to carry this through and make it the absolute best it can be,” he admits.
Another one of those bucket list collaborations is Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson, who co-wrote the poignant “Dying to See Her” with Paisley. While the two have worked together in the past, Anderson says he was grateful that the singer called him up with the song idea in mind. A powerful story song about a man who is struggling after the death of his wife, Anderson could relate as it was the tale of his father following his mother’s passing.
“She was his reason for living, she was his rock and his best friend / They’ll be reunited in heaven, ‘cause he’s dying to see her again,” Paisley sings on the song’s chorus.
The song was brought to life in video form and shows a clip of the cemetery where Anderson’s parents are both buried. At the bottom of their grave sits a bench that reads “Anderson.”
“My sister and I had that little bench made that sits right by their grave because Dad would go there and he would stand there for an hour and would cry and tell me how much he missed Mom and how much he loved her,” Anderson says softly. “Finally, we realized he was going to go every day and he needed to sit down so we had this marble bench made with the word Anderson engraved on it and when I saw that on that big screen it was pretty emotional. In my mind’s eye I could see my dad sitting there because I saw him there so many times.”
“Dying to See Her” is a song that Anderson says holds immense meaning to him and will be a big part of his life. While the song itself is sad, he says it also has hope in it.
“It really has a happy ending if you believe that we are going to see our loved ones again someday. A song like that, on its deepest level, really speaks to you in a way that will be lasting,” he adds.
Anderson, meanwhile, raves about his co-writer, calling Paisley a visionary.
“I mean, who would put Mick Jagger, John Fogerty, Timbaland and Bill Anderson all on the same record without it being laughable? And it’s not laughable. It works,” he says. “I was sitting there thinking, he’s knocking down some walls. It might be a year from now every record is made [with] a whole video. He may be pioneering something. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he’s not. If anybody’s going to break down walls, it’ll be Brad. He’ll build them back and they’ll be stronger than they were before he broke them down.”
Both Paisley’s manager, Bill Simmons, and Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Nashville, Randy Goodman, echo Anderson’s praises. While Simmons agrees that Paisley has “always had an uncanny knack to be slightly ahead of the curve,” Goodman details his versatility with collaborators.
“He sees a musical connection that maybe not all of us see,” Goodman notes. “Timbaland, to me, was probably the biggest stretch. You’re sitting there going, ‘I don’t really get that,’ but then when you hear the way the song came out and that influence then you go, ‘It was really Brad taking the best parts of Timbaland and folding that together.'”
Some country fans may raise their eyebrows at the thought of Paisley getting into the studio with R&B and hip-hop producer Timbaland, who has worked with the likes of Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake and Jay Z, among others. As it turns out their collaboration, “Grey Goose Chase,” just so happens to be the most country sounding track on the release. One of two songs Timbaland assisted with and produced for Love and War, “Grey Goose Chase” is a rowdy blend of bluegrass with slick beats and Paisley’s impressive guitar slinging.
Timbaland says he approached writing with Paisley, his first-ever foray into the country genre, the same way as he does any other writing session.
“It was just music meeting music and we had fun and enjoyed what music brought to us. We got to know each other and the music came as we were doing it,” Timbaland recalls of meeting at Paisley’s home studio for their three-day writing session. “It was no different [than any other collaboration]. It was almost the same. An artist is an artist the way they approach it. Music is universal and everybody feels the same way.”
While music is universal and songwriters often advise to discuss topics that relate to the masses instead of solely the songwriter, Paisley explains that sometimes the more personal details he puts into a song, the more listeners latch onto that line. “The truth is a really powerful thing in our format,” Paisley stresses.
One example of this includes his new single “Last Time for Everything,” a song that he says is one of the most honest tracks on Love and War. The song itself details how there is often a last time for everything in life — even if we don’t realize it at the time. Specifically, Paisley sings of “Little Jimmy on the Opry stage.” He says it’s this line that resonates most with listeners.
“Thinking about Little Jimmy [Dickens] on the Opry stage, that’s one of those lines you never thought you could throw in a song and there it is. That line’s for me in that song. I could have had a line that maybe applies to a lot more people than that, except what I find is that’s the line everyone is bringing up,” Paisley explains. “You never realize when it’s the last time and I realized that the other day. I don’t pick my 10-year-old up anymore because he’s too heavy. And it’s like, ‘When did that stop?’ I didn’t realize it was the last time when that happened.”
Songs like “Last Time for Everything” and “Today” have endless examples that would fit the song and Paisley is well aware of this. He said there were several lines he and his co-writers left out from “Last Time for Everything” including “taping Cinemax on your parents’ VCR” and “picking a fight with a guy that’s 6-foot-4.”
It’s fun to pull on heartstrings like this. It always feels important, the more people you can affect in a personal way.
“It would have been a funnier song but not better. We figured that out early on. The lines that matter in this are ‘watching Glenn Frey,’ ‘Santa’ and stuff like that. That’s the crux of the song,” he shares. “The song feels fun to me even though it’s really heartfelt. To me, that’s a great example of me, which is this strange world of make you wanna cry, make you wanna laugh at the same time. That song really epitomizes what I do.”
“Last Time for Everything” is just one example of the extremes showcased throughout Love and War. All the while, there are pieces of Paisley’s life within each song and video presented on the project. As the music industry continues to find new ways to reach listeners, Paisley is leading the way with his love for music videos.
“The album as an art form is dying, we can see that every week, but it’s still my favorite way to make music. Throughout my career, I loved the video process and the process of film-making. We sat around and said, ‘What if we can make this album something that resonates on a deeper level with people and they won’t miss it?’ Anything that keeps them from missing the work that you did, that’s what you want as an artist,” he concedes. “I think it’s a real challenge with a music video to make something that doesn’t make the song worse. I’m really proud of the fact that I get the sense that they’re all better for it.”